It’s my birthday so I am going to let someone else post for me today. This years bonus birthday post is brought to you by Paul Macauley
He made a lovely artefact called Apples, Pumpkins and Strawberries
It is full of lovely doodles and jokes, and this by far has to be my favourite:
He also has a podcast which is well worth listening to.
I am also currently in Australia with Paul and will post a longer travel blog when I am back in England, so keep an eye out for that.
“For now is my grief heavier than the sands of the seas, she thought. This world has emptied me of all but the oldest purpose: tomorrow’s life.” – Frank Herbert, Dune
Bear with me, this post comes with words. I began writing this on 23rd May, the week after my Grandad died. I then spent months trying to put into words what he meant to me.
My Grandad was amazing. I know lots of people say they had the world’s best grandad, but mine really was extraordinary. He looked like santa. He told the best stories, often more then once. He was dad like to so many people. He chose his family, and once you were in you were to be loved and accepted and lifted up in his pride of you.
When my mother’s father passed away he wrote her a letter which I think reached her in her grief. He probably didn’t know when he wrote it, that his words would bring us comfort all those years later.
People live as long as they are remembered.
Over this year these words have bought me great comfort. Grief puts everyone on their own timeline. When a significant death occurs, it rolls through the group like a wave, but everyone is standing their own distance from the shore. Sometimes you are treading water, sometimes you are watching others get knocked off their feet. Sometimes it feels like you are all alone under the water.
This season is a time for families, this year ours is a little bit smaller for his having passed. But he will be remembered, and in being remembered he will not be gone, just passed.
I would like to share some of the wisdom that I gathered from him:
If you’re going to spend good money on anything, make sure it’s shoes and your mattress. If you are not in one, you’re in the other. And, when the time comes, get a wicker coffin. They are beautiful to look at, kinder to the environment and kinder for the people who bear you to wherever you are laid to rest.
“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases” – Carl Jung
Never stop learning. The greatest way to teach others is to be a constant student. My grandfather was a boatman, an actor, a grave digger but he was always a teacher. For some of his life he even got paid to teach. He was also an amazing student and it was his enthusiasm for learning which made him a great channel for knowledge. A few years ago now he enrolled in a law course at the open university, and I got such a kick thinking that he probably stored his student ID in his wallet next to his 65+ bus pass.
If you are going to get angry about something, make sure you direct it towards change. If you are angry at politicians, go vote. And if that doesn’t work go stand outside where they work and tell them what you think. Don’t get enraged, or despondent, get direct.
There is nothing weak or cowardly about taking the road of least harm. Pacifism is not a cowards way out. There is nothing soft about choosing not to fight. When standing in the face of conflict or violence, the greatest act of strength is to stand and be at peace. There are many justifications for violence, some of them appear just. However there is only one reason to refuse to fight, and that is because, just like me, each living thing on earth will feel enough pain in it’s life, without me adding to it. This is not an easy way out.
Family is not about blood. Family are the people who build you up. They support you even in your faults (sometimes they are the first people to point your faults out). They lift your spirits when they surprise you on your birthday. Gather them close to you today. Family give you somewhere to belong. When I was very young my parents divorced and for a long time I think some of the people closest to us weren’t sure how to handle this. As a child I was the only one in my class whose parents were divorced. People didn’t know how to handle that, sometimes in my own family. My grandad never made me feel like I had to shut part of myself off, or that I had to be part of one family and not another. When he decided to open his family to someone they stayed. That acceptance meant the world to me. There have been times this year when that acceptance has felt a little fragile without him here anymore, but that is just grief and as the year has passed I have found an inner connection that his s
upport grew in me.
A good story is in the eyebrows. If you have ever been told a story by someone with enthusiastic eyebrows you will know what I mean.
“Everyone must leave something behind when he
dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.
It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” – Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451
I have decided that the perfect metaphor for change is not the butterfly; it is instead the humble axolotl.
A few years ago now, in the darkness of winter, I travelled to the Art of Hosting conference in Sweden. During one of the sessions, Bob Stilger was talking about transformation and change. At the time he expressed that he was frustrated with the constant use of the butterfly as the standard metaphor for change. After giving this a fair bit of mulling over space, I have come up with the ideal alternative candidate, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
As anyone who was fortunate enough to work in a way where challenge drives motivation, the last few weeks/months have been really difficult. Personally at times I have felt like a dumping ground, isolated in a sea of … well that’s probably not helpful to dwell on. It has been tough, and no one has been able to hide that. At several points I have thought myself broken. What I have realised is that when you are facing a task that seems insurmountable, feeling disconnected and alone is very real. People need something to rally to. In these moments what has kept me going were the lovely people I work with.
I have had no rulebook to hide behind, no one to tell me what to do, and when people in my team have asked me how I am feeling I know that they deserve an honest answer. As a result this experience has made
me more determined to find ways for people to connect to each other. Self-management doesn’t mean working in isolation. If anything it is even more important for people to form strong relationships. It is the only way that people can operate in this system. Anything less and you crumble.
The saving grace is that every time I have felt close to breaking permanently, every time I have cried and wanted to throw my toys out of the pram, help has appeared. All of this came from a sense of pride and respect for individuals which is (without being trite) kind of awe inspiring.
So anyway, the axolotl and why I think this should be the new mascot for transformation. For those of you not familiar with this smiley little amphibian, the axolotl is closely related to the tiger salamander. Unlike most salamanders the axolotl reaches maturity without undergoing metamorphosis (bear with me). Instead of growing lungs and venturing onto land, it keeps it’s prepubescent gills and remains aquatic. They are used extensively in science because of their ability to regrow limbs.
What makes axolotls remarkable is the fact that, although they reach maturity largely unchanged, they exhibit a remarkable quality. If they ingest enough iodine, either through their diet or injections, they will grow lungs and transform into larger terrestrial adults. They can live their whole life cycles without reaching this stage, but if the conditions are right then they walk on land. Although nowhere near as beautiful as butterflies, I personally think they are much more poignant.
As I write this I am listening to me and my dear friend Paul Macauley talk. I recently had the privilege of joining him on his podcast Creative Loving Spirit. It’s a privilege because it’s not often I get to talk about art and my blog to people, and speaking to someone like Paul who asks good questions is quite joyful.
So please listen, I hope you enjoy and don’t just listen to my one, there is a whole series to fill your ear holes with!